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“Destroy” the Politicized Slum of Cité Soleil, Argues Canadian Colonel who Led the Occupation of Haiti

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
UN Principal Deputy Special Representative Lawrence G. Rossin presents Michel Duhamel with a medal of honour in 2006  (Image: Thony Belizaire/AFP/Getty Images)
UN Principal Deputy Special Representative Lawrence G. Rossin presents Michel Duhamel with a medal of honour in 2006 (Image: Thony Belizaire/AFP/Getty Images)
Michel Duhamel (third from left) poses with his team at the Canadian embassy’s golf tournament in 2011. The majority of the members of the winning team were employees of weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin. (Image: Washington Diplomat)
Michel Duhamel (third from left) poses with his team at the Canadian embassy’s golf tournament in 2011. The majority of the members of the winning team were employees of weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin. (Image: Washington Diplomat)
Michel Duhamel at Cap-Haïtien in 2006 (Image: Maple Leaf)
Michel Duhamel at Cap-Haïtien in 2006 (Image: Maple Leaf)
Michel Duhamel while MINUSTAH chief of staff, ca. 2006 (Image: World View Canada)
Michel Duhamel while MINUSTAH chief of staff, ca. 2006 (Image: World View Canada)
 

The United Nations’ MINUSTAH force was far more efficient than outright U.S. occupation would have been following the 2004 Haitian coup, argues Canadian Army Colonel Michel Duhamel. Shortly after the Canadian-, US-, and French-backed ouster of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Duhamel acted as MINUSTAH’s chief of staff, effectively third from the top of its chain of command. In a position piece authored by Duhamel, the colonel boasts that his team “cost… half of what it would have cost the U.S. to conduct a similar peacekeeping operation.”

The argument appears alongside a proposed long-term strategy for foreign military operations in Haiti in Duhamel’s paper, entitled Haiti: The Need for a Stronger Approach, which he wrote in 2009 while an international fellow at the U.S. Army War College.

The assumption that MINUSTAH achieved results equivalent to U.S. military intervention is striking given Haiti’s all-too-real experience of occupation by U.S. Marines from 1914 to 1934. The U.S. assumed financial receivership of the Caribbean nation, extracting the remaining sums of Haiti’s infamous independence debt. Following the Haitian slave revolution of 1804, the country had been forced to agree to pay an enormous indemnity to former owners of Haitian slaves to compensate their loss of human “property.” U.S. receivership continued until Haiti made the final payment to the National City Bank in 1947.

Duhamel’s Proposal to Destroy Cité Soleil and to Replace it with a “New Business District”

The centrepiece of Duhamel’s proposal for Haiti’s future—which he acknowledges as “potentially controversial”—is to completely destroy Haiti’s largest slum, Cité Soleil, and to replace it with a “new business district.” It is no secret that the impoverished Cité Soleil has been the centre of popular resistance to the agenda of the Haitian élite, as well as to the policy of both Canada and its multinational corporations. Canada has consistently aimed to portray the neigbourhood simply as a site of criminality in need of a firm foreign hand. In Duhamel’s words:

The paralyzing effects on the economy and persistent security threat that Cité Soleil poses must be eliminated. [Yet t]here is no denying that the motivation for criminality emanating from Cité Soleil is poverty.

The residents of Cité Soleil would not only provide the bulk of the work force to destroy, move, and rebuild a new Cité Soleil, but would also be employed to build and later work in the newly developed business and manufacturing district.

Duhamel’s call for a “stronger approach” is difficult to conceptually reckon with given the extent of MINUSTAH violence in Cité Soleil during the ten years since it was first established. Most notoriously, on 6 July 2005 the force deployed 41 armoured personnel carriers and its troops fired 22,000 rounds into the residential district, killing untold numbers of civilians in an operation the US Ambassador implies was formulated “[i]n response to embassy and private sector prodding.” A MINUSTAH commander previously resigned after stating that he was “under extreme pressure from the international community to use violence,” specifically citing Canada, France, and the US.

Duhamel’s plan evokes Canada’s prior oversight of the forced relocation of another “slum” inhabited by former African slaves to make way for business and industry: the razing of the Halifax neighbourhood of Africville in the 1960s. As in Duhamel’s plan, the government promised that a secondary effect of relocation would be widespread benefit felt by neighbourhood residents, including improved living conditions. But history has judged Africville’s destruction in a different light, and Halifax’s mayor agreed to deliver a public apology in 2010.

Duhamel: Comprehensive MINUSTAH Media Strategy Essential

Colonel Duhamel argues in his paper that the “fundamental social, economic, and political changes in Haiti” that MINUSTAH is seeking cannot be achieved without a comprehensive “communication and information strategy.” This must include “broadcasting daily UN information messages through the local TV and radio networks,” and “the UN would also need to create a parallel radio broadcast network, with stations located and protected in the various UN military camps dispersed throughout the country.”

The force could certainly benefit from an image adjustment. Among the most recent of the 85 allegations of sexual abuse of Haitians by MINUSTAH members was one made against a Canadian police officer. Haiti has not held trials on any of the allegations, and the Canadian officer immediately returned to Canada, where charges cannot be laid.

MINUSTAH is currently being sued on allegations it introduced cholera into the country. Although there were no cases of the disease in Haiti prior to 2010, Haiti today “has the highest number of cholera cases in the world.”

Following the emergence of cholera, the Haitian Senate adopted a resolution calling for MINUSTAH’s withdrawal from the country, which to date the force has ignored.

For Michel Duhamel, however, even if image is important, it ultimately remains secondary. What is fundamental is achieving a bolder MINUSTAH by shelving the international legal principle of non-interference: “the UN must overcome its reluctance to insert itself in the internal affairs of a country.”


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